Interracial relations in the United States have had a turbulent past. As the country has now taken baby steps into the current millennium, the diversity of racial population and how the face of the American citizen looks is as vast as the people that inhabit the land.
For many, the choice to find friendship, love and marriage is one that is without barrier.
Amanda Brooks is a 24 year old mother of two; one 5 months, the other a 6 year old. Living in the upstate New York small town of Mellinville, she lives with her younger brothers and mother, along with her sons.
Her mother has five children including Brooks; three are of mixed race. To see them all standing next to each other, one would be hard pressed to tell that they were of the same family other than an uncanny link they have in the eyes. It is this diversity that makes them a modern day interpretation of the melting pot values the United States was based on.
Their home is small, sandwiched between a two lane county road and a creek that feeds into the local sewage plant that is just behind a row of trees half mile away. She makes ends meet by working in the local Wal-Mart and selling knock off copies of various colognes, jewelry and discounted personal hygiene products; the same ones vendors sell in carts and small tables throughout Manhattan streets.
While Brooks is Caucasian, she says that she is a mix of different European descents.
“I have Polish and German roots…in fact I am a mixture of a lot of different cultures…I guess I am a sort of mutt,” she says while laughing.
Brook’s children have different fathers, both of which are black. She says that dating outside of her race is not something she actively pursues. It’s just what happened.
“I don’t care about a person’s skin color and any of that. As long as they are good inside, it does not matter.”
Three of her brothers have black fathers as well. Brooks said that she was not raised to be prejudiced, and that her friends may not date someone of a different race, they are at least accepting of it. That does not mean that she has not come across a few people that have said things to her that were disparaging.
“There were these girls I hung out with that were like ‘I can’t believe you would date a (expletive)’ when they found out my boyfriend was black…it was pretty messed up, and that was pretty much it for them in my life.”
The choice for Brooks to date someone was in fact not a choice at all.
“It was no different than two people of the same race dating. You meet someone, and if you get along and like the person, you just see where things go.”
Interracial dating extends far beyond typical gender roles as well. The fight for same sex couples in the United States to be recognized legally on a national level has been one of the most heated debates facing the country in recent years. Aside from the philosophical or religious stance Americans take on the issue, lesbian and gay couples still have to confront the same obstacles as their heterosexual counterparts; race being one of them.
Nelson Cedeno is a 41 year old Brooklyn native. His partner James Puccio is 50, and also a native of Brooklyn. The two of them have been together for 17 years. Cedeno is a Latino of Puerto Rican descent and Puccio is Caucasian of Italian descent. They met at a night club, and though they shared in a strong attraction for one another, it was not quite love at first sight.
“I had been single for a few months and was lonely because my former partner had been the love of my life at the time and our break up had been tough for me,” Puccio said.
Cedeno had only been single for three days prior to meeting Puccio. They were both at vulnerable points, and it was these voids that each had in their lives that seemed to link the two.
At 33, Puccio was nine years older than Cedeno. He liked the fact that Cedeno was living on his own, responsible and taking charge of his life. To Puccio, it was what made Cedeno different from a lot of other people his age.
The two of them begun to get to know each other and their partnership developed.
However, aside from the fact that they both are Brooklyn natives, their culture and ethnicity is decidedly different.
“James was the first and only white male that I have been with intimately. I had always dated Puerto Rican or black men, but race doesn’t matter to me,” said Cedeno.
Since the age of 16, Cedeno has been making his own way through life. All of his family with the exception of an older estranged brother is deceased. So for that very reason, there was never an issue regarding family having a problem with who he dated. His friends are his family and with them, who he dated was never an issue even though his social circle is limited.
“I really don’t have any white friends; not because of any racial bigotry, but mainly because I just don’t feel I relate to them culturally. But when it comes to friends or a love interest, you have to go where your heart tells you,” Cedeno said.
For his partner, things were a bit different.
Puccio comes from a large Italian family. He says that there are Puerto Ricans within his family and his mother even dated a Puerto Rican male.
“I was exposed to different races my whole life and there have Puerto Ricans within my family for as long as I can remember. I myself find that I am mainly attracted to Puerto Rican and Latin men… it is what I have dated my whole life, maybe because it was what I had been exposed to the most,” said Puccio.
Puccio has many friends of different cultures and ethnicity. His family has always been supportive of who he dates regardless of their background as long as the person is good to him. Puccio has never dated a Caucasian, but finds that if ever put into that position in the future that he would want to date someone of his own race.
“It is not that there has been anything negative for me based on my experience with Nelson or anyone in my past, I just would want to see what it is like to date another white guy,” Puccio said.
The words spoken by Puccio don’t seem to visibly upset or offend his partner; Cedeno just listens and acknowledges Puccio words by nodding in subtle agreement.
Cedeno says that based on his experience with Puccio, he would date someone that was white…just someone different.
After being together for so many years, Cedeno and Puccio have had their ups and downs, and theses days struggling to stay together as a couple.
The two acknowledge that they do not know what the future has in store for them as a couple.
As Cedeno and Puccio deal with an uncertain future, it is their differences as individuals and not their race that comes into question. In a country that different races and cultures added ingredients to the melting pot, the path to intermixing races has stirred the pot.
In the United States, miscegenation (sexual relations between people of different races) was illegal in the Deep South part until 1967. In the 1883 case Pace vs. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that each state could ban interracial marriage and that in doing so, the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was not violated. The following is what the law read.
“[I]f any white person and any negro, or the descendant of any negro to the third generation, inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation was a white person, intermarry or live in adultery or fornication with each other, each of them must, on conviction, be imprisoned in the penitentiary or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not less than two nor more than seven years.”
This law was in place for more than 80 years until the 1967 case Loving vs. Virginia.
Mildred Jeter and Richard loving were married on June 2, 1958 in Washington D.C. by randomly picking the name of a minister out of a phone book according to information in the book “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been For Lovers,” by Author Phyl Newbeck. After which, the newly married couple immediately drove back to their home of Central Point, Virginia.
After being home for five weeks, court records say that the two were arrested and charged for being illegally married to each other. They plead guilty to the charge against them on January 6, 1959 and were sentenced to one year in jail.
However, the sentence would be suspended if the couple agreed to leave the state of Virginia for 25 years.
They decided to leave Virginia and went to Washington D.C. where Mildred wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. It addressed what happened to them in Virginia. Kennedy forwarded the letter to the American Civil Liberties Union and attorney Bernard S Cohen.
After nine years, the case appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court and in 1967, the court unanimously ruled that state bans on interracial marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling made interracial marriage legal throughout the United States.
However, in the state of Alabama Constitution, there was an unenforceable interracial ban that stood as recently as 1998, in section 102 that read “The legislature shall never pass any law to authorise or legalise any marriage between any white person and a Negro or descendant of a Negro.”
After voters went to the polls to have the wording removed, it was approved to do so buy a surprisingly close margin; 59 percent voted to remove; 41 percent favored to keep it.
In the United States post Millennium, the support for interracial dating and marriage has taken the most dramatic change in the country’s history, particularly among one group.
The generation dubbed “Millennials” or “Generation Y” are the most diverse group racially in United States history according to data from the Pew Research Center.
Millennials are generally considered those born between 1981 and 2000.
With Generation Y, data says that the percentage of racial diversity has changed drastically among those between the ages of 13 to 29. In 2009, 18.5 percent were Hispanic, 14.2 percent black, 4.3 percent Asian, 3.2 percent mixed or other race, and 59.8 percent were white, which is a record low.
Also, according to Census 2000 data, the most common type of interracial couple was a white husband married to an Asian wife, which makes up 14 percent of all interracial couples. The next largest percentage was black husbands with white wives, which accounted for eight percent. The Census data also reflected that of the black-white couples, in 73 percent of them the husband was black. With Asian-white couples, 75 percent of the marriages identified the husband as white.
At Mercy College, diversity is one thing the school prides itself on. Being in the back yard of the countries’ largest cultural and racially diverse metropolitan area, Manhattan and its burrows, it’s not uncommon to see racially diverse couples around campus.
Brian Johnson and Claudia Santoya are Mercy Juniors in an interracial relationship. Johnson identifies with being of African American and Jamaican descent. His girlfriend Claudia is Cuban. They believe that interracial relationships are a positive thing.
Johnson and Santoya have been together for a year and six months and met at Mercy College while they were freshman.
Santoyas’ parents have met Johnson before and vice versa. Santoyas’ family is very supportive of her decision with who she is dating. She says that they don’t have anything against Johnson as long as he is “a good kid who doesn’t drink or do drugs.” Santoyas’ parents are more concerned with Johnsons inner being than how he looks on the outside, she said.
Johnson’s experience leads him to believe that dating someone of another race is not an issue, but there are times when things might be a little uncomfortable.
“I think it’s a tough thing to do because it gets awkward if you are taking a blonde hair and blue eye girl on a date and you have really dark skin. You get a variety of looks from different people,” he said. “They do make beautiful babies though.”
Johnson and Santoyas also believe that the diversity of Mercy College and the equality of the students is a very positive part of student life. Johnson says that with all the different types of people at Mercy, he has never noticed or witnessed anyone not getting along with anyone else because of their race.
For another student at Mercy, interracial dating is ok, but it is not a choice that would be for her.
Jackii Newman, a junior at Mercy College, grew up in North Carolina. She is still in a bit of diversity shock from coming to New York.
“I don’t personally have a problem with interracial couples or dating, but it is still new to me because I grew up in a town that frowned upon things like that…it is not very common, but when it does happen back at home, it is out of the ordinary,” she said.
Newman isn’t against interracial dating and feels that in spite of the area where she grew up, she came from a very accepting family.
“My dad would be a little uneasy at first, but he would never tell me who I can or cannot date especially because of race,” said Newman.
“My mom is accepting of everybody and is used to interracial dating because she grew up in New Jersey. My brother doesn’t care, but he is always going to be protective of me because I am the youngest…so white or black, my brother would give the guy a hard time,” she laughs.
Newman says for her, generally she isn’t particularly attracted to men outside her race, but she is not opposed to people of different races dating.
“I am very attracted to white men. That may be because of the type of environment that I grew up in. I don’t necessarily dislike other races; I just don’t find them attractive. But I used to date a Cuban boy,” Newman said as she laughed.
Newman does not consider herself racist because of how she feels. She believes her personal choice of who to date is a simple matter of attraction, and that everyone has a physical preference. However for her, she is happy to have had the chance to broaden herself socially.
“Growing up where I did, I am very appreciative to get to experience the diversity that Mercy College has to offer.”
To find out how some other students felt, an anonymous survey of 75 randomly chosen students was conducted regarding interracial dating at Mercy. The students were from the Dobbs Ferry campus.
There were 25 Caucasian students, 17 black or African American students, 17 Latino students, 9 Asian or Pacific Islander students, and 7 students that checked “other” as their race.
The survey asked a variety of questions to include basic demographic information such as the student’s race, gender and age.
More than 50 percent of the Caucasians that participated in this survey haven’t dated out of their race but they would if they had a chance. Eleven out of 17 black of African American participants were in the age group of 21-29; more than 50 percent of those participants have dated out of their race.
Less than half of the black or African American participants feel like they have been involved or targeted in an act of racism or discrimination of someone that is a different race or ethnicity at Mercy College.
More than 50 percent of the survey participants that were Latino said that didn’t mind interracial dating; they have been in an interracial relationship before, and they notice that there is cross cultural dating at Mercy College.
There were five out of the nine participants that where Asian or Pacific Islander decent that were in the age group of 21-29 and said it was acceptable to date out of your own race, but their families wouldn’t approve.
Lastly, all of the survey participants that fell under the category of “other” race were in the age group of 17-20 and believe that is acceptable to date different ethnicities and they have many close friends that are of different ethnicity than their own.
The last question on the survey dealt with question of whether the environment at Mercy College promotes equality and diversity for all students. More than 70 percent of the participants answered saying yes, while 15 out of the 75 students said that Mercy College does not promote equality and diversity.
Of the 15 students, 5 were Caucasian, 4 were Latino, 3 were black or African American, and 2 were Asian or Pacific Islander. There was 1 student that said no from the “other” race category.
Based on research from polling organizations such as the Pew Institute and the survey locally conducted on Mercy Colleges’ Dobbs Ferry campus, interracial relationships do mirror national trends towards the acceptance of interracial dating.
Even though the country has come from a turbulent past and has made great strides in the pursuit of racial equality and acceptance there is still work to be done. In President Barack Obamas’ 2008 presidential speech, “A More Perfect Union,” Obama paraphrases a quote from American writer William Faulkner:
“The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.”